The Dalai Lama in Europe

The following cohesive work ended up on the cutting-room floor just prior to the publication of my essay “Dalai Lama struggles to retain influence over troubled Tibet,” The Irish Times (Dublin), April 22, 2012, p. 14.

The Dalai Lama arrives in Northern Ireland at a particularly important time for his own independence movement, which is based in Dharmsala in the north of India, where he has led a government-in-exile since fleeing Tibet in 1959. Tibetan counties and so-called “autonomous regions” are spread all over western China, where the Chinese government is undertaking a combination of blandishments (heavy development and infrastructure investment) and punishments for those who would challenge Beijing’s status quo. Tibetans are worried about cultural erosion in the areas they live in, where the Chinese government is engaging in forced relocation into new housing, heavily censors Tibetan literature, and most galling of all, has engaged in a forced patriotic propaganda campaign in monasteries.

The recent rise of self-immolations by young Tibetans in China as a form of protest indicates that the Dalai Lama’s line for peaceful protest against Beijing is beginning to erode, and that Tibetans inside of China may be moving down a more radical path than the one he advocates. Like the hunger strikers during the Troubles, the young men and women engaged in such protest have brought global attention to underlying problems but also created divides about what type of protest is justified, and what it implies for the path forward.

Beijing’s massive domestic and international propaganda apparatus has labelled the Dalai Lama as a “terrorist” and “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” asserting that he is directing the Tibetan resistance movement inside of China’s borders with the help of American and Indian intelligence organizations. Countries that allow the Dalai Lama to visit are occasionally held up for scorn and critique by Beijing, particularly when civic leaders such as mayors (or higher-ranking officials) meet with “His Holiness.” Mayors in Paris, France, as well as Portland, Oregon, have been the targets in recent years of strident Chinese government campaigns to stop what it calls “splittist” activity ranging from meeting with the Dalai Lama to celebrating Tibetan culture.

The Dalai Lama is in Derry to celebrate dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes, but his own movement is at an impasse. There are few viable paths forward for dialogue and negotiations between the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing, and the CCP seems merely to be waiting for the Dalai Lama’s death to step in and create a split in the search for his child successor.

Image: Dalai Lama with then-mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe on 7 June 2009, when the Tibetan leader was given honorary citizenship of the city, much to the protest of the Chinese state media.  

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